Pathways Academy Summer Camps Reach Children Across State

By Chris Carmody

Pathways Academy — part of the UAMS Division for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — is a statewide educational and community engagement program that prepares K-12 students for opportunities in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and health sciences (STEM-H) disciplines.

The program also strives to improve the well-being of students and their communities. As part of this mission, Pathways Academy hosted teens from Jonesboro, Little Rock and Pine Bluff for a day of lessons about leadership and financial literacy.

Teens from Pathways Academy’s Jonesboro site take part in a budgeting activity during the Powered By Service event held at Hall STEAM Magnet High School in Little Rock.

Teens from Pathways Academy’s Jonesboro site take part in a budgeting activity during the Powered By Service event held at Hall STEAM Magnet High School in Little Rock.

The event at Hall STEAM Magnet High School was led by instructors from Usher’s New Look, a nonprofit leadership program founded by recording artist Usher Raymond. First-year students in Pathways Academy’s RAMP-UP high school program took part in the nonprofit’s Powered By Service curriculum, which teaches youths about servant leadership, financial literacy and career opportunities.

Students engaged in activities that showed them how to set goals, build a personal brand and change their spending habits. In a lesson on budgeting, the teens divided into groups and set spending priorities based on a designated amount of income. Instructors occasionally threw a wrench into the process by asking the students to account for surprise expenses such as the birth of a child or property damage from a severe storm.

Kyra Pratt, a rising sophomore from Jonesboro, noted the value of learning to solve problems alongside her fellow students.

“The Pathways experience has involved a lot of teamwork,” she said.

Levester Butler, a rising sophomore at Jonesboro High School, said the event showed him the importance of becoming a more assertive leader. His favorite activity was a problem-solving exercise that focused on the issue of poverty.

“I enjoyed having a chance to look at a worldwide problem and find ways that we might be able to someday fix it,” he said.

Students in their second year of Pathways Academy attended the Powered By Service session last summer, so this year’s lessons took a deeper look at entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

In one lesson, the students learned about budgeting and maintaining an emergency fund, but they also discussed the importance of setting aside money to ensure that they can pursue their passions and hobbies. The goal is to give them the tools they need to avoid money problems as adults.

“These lessons have been really good,” said Kristina Blackmon, a rising senior at Little Rock Christian Academy. “I’ve learned a lot about the type of person I am within my budget.”

Students also learned the basics of how to start their own businesses. Instructors encouraged them to think about ways they can market their talents and to consider factors such as target audience and overhead costs.

Jessica Washington, the national programs director for Usher’s New Look, said it’s important to narrow the nation’s poverty gap by helping youths make smart financial decisions at an early age.

“I think today’s event has been incredible,” she said. “The students have been highly involved in all the activities we’ve presented.”

Pathways Academy started in summer 2022 with pilot sites in Hot Springs, Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Springdale. It expanded this year to include sites in Arkadelphia, Camden, Helena-West Helena and Jonesboro.

Lexi Hoxey, a rising third grader from Pathways Academy’s Arkadelphia site, learns about radiology during a field trip to the Museum of Discovery.

Lexi Hoxey, a rising third grader from Pathways Academy’s Arkadelphia site, learns about radiology during a field trip to the Museum of Discovery.

The program’s extended reach was on display as elementary students from Arkadelphia, Camden and Helena-West Helena recently traveled to Little Rock for a series of field trips to the Museum of Discovery. The groups represented Pathways Academy’s Junior STEM Academy, which serves students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

During the Arkadelphia group’s day at the museum, students explored a 1,800-square-foot cardboard maze and engaged in a variety of activities that showed them the wonders of science and technology. The field trip marked the culmination of a two-week camp that provided many of the children with their first exposure to the possibilities of careers in health care.

The Arkadelphia camp served 48 students who were divided into three groups based on grade level. Kimberly Ellison, Pathways Academy’s site coordinator in Arkadelphia, said the smaller groups allowed instructors to better meet the needs of each student.

“All of our students are eager to learn, but some of them benefit more from having a smaller classroom setting,” she said.

The camp’s lessons included hands-on activities that showed the value of innovation in the medical field. Students learned about prosthetics and built replicas using household materials. They also crafted models of hearts and lungs, and they learned about how medical professionals use ultrasound to see important structures inside the body.

Tiana Berry, a rising sixth grader, said she enjoyed the prosthetics lesson because it showed how she can create a product for the benefit of others.

“I think this has been one of the most fun things I’ve done during the summer,” she said of the Pathways Academy program. “I’ve been excited to be here every single day.”

Ellison said Pathways Academy’s outreach is already making a difference in the lives of children from rural and underrepresented areas of the state.

“There are many students who wouldn’t have had these opportunities if UAMS hadn’t come to our community,” she said.

Katina White, educational coordinator for Pathways Academy, praised participants of all ages for taking advantage of those opportunities.

“I’ve seen the level of engagement from our scholars this summer, and I really appreciate them,” she said. “We put a lot of effort into creating a program that will enrich their lives for years to come, and it’s been wonderful to see how receptive they are.”